Van Halen has released 12 studio albums, 2 live albums, and 2 “best of” compilations. The band’s catalog is pretty damn big, yet radio stations typically only play a handful of songs. By that same token, and as it should, the two “best of” comps include tracks that should appeal to the widest audience possible. But these comps, even the Best of Both Worlds that contains 29 existing songs from studio released albums, have left out a lot of material that arguably deserves to be on a Van Halen “best of” release.
With that in mind, and with a few key parameters, let’s explore some of these songs. For this installment we’ll stick with Roth-era material that has appeared strictly on studio albums. This means that we’re not considering covers, live covers, live versions, or any songs that have previously appeared on a best-of compilation. We’re also not looking at songs that were released after the release date of the latest Van Halen compilation, so A Different Kind of Truth (2012) is out.
But first, let’s have a little opinion about Van Halen before we move on to the list of Roth-era Van Halen songs that should be on a “best-of” compilation.
In their day, Van Halen was huge! Van Halen was about as big as it gets, and if you weren’t around, you just don’t know how ubiquitous the band was. Perhaps greater than being played on every radio station,and pop, and being an MTV poster band, was their influence, innovation, and genre-defining sound.
Now, there are many who say that Van Halen isn’t, and I’ll concede that as the years went on the band’s “hardness” diminished. I’ll also say that as metal became more extreme, even Van Halen’s earlier work got further away from what heavy metal has become. However, you’re dead wrong if you say that Van Halen’s earlier work wasn’t heavy metal in the context of the years 1978 to 1984. True enough, they had plenty of songs that were very pop-centric and some that were maybe a little too much “fun” to be considered heavy metal, but by and large the riffs and the heaviness were very present.
And yes, Van Halen’s style ushered in an era of glam metal, and just about every band of that genre tried to capitalize on Eddie’s finger-tapping style. It wasn’t just the playing style either; before Van Halen, hard rock and heavy metal was generally sombre and unsmiling. What Van Halen did was bring the party to the scene, and that’s not a bad thing — heavy metal should, at times, be a celebration.
But Van Halen did more than influence the party scene that became glam metal, the riffing and soloing also had an impact on all guitarists, even the “by definition” heavy metal guitarists. Consider what Pantera would have been if Dimebag hadn’t idolized Van Halen. The fact is that what Eddie did on guitar hadn’t been done or heard before. It speaks volumes when a fledgling band with one album goes on tour to open for Black Sabbath and outperforms the godfathers of heavy metal and leaves fans more impressed by their act act than the main attractions.
Van Halen’s greatness was and remains much greater than the contributions made by Eddie. The band was truly the sum of its parts. Alex Van Halen is likely one of the most underrated drummers in music, and I would put him up against Neil Peart or Mike Portnoy any day of the week. (Let the hate begin.) Michael Anthony brought an incredible balance of groove, swagger, and heaviness with his bass, not to mention his backing vocals that helped define the Van Halen sound. Then there’s David Lee Roth, one of the greatest frontman ever to step foot on a stage. His charisma, flamboyance, and stage presence were as huge as if the band had placed the Empire State Building at center stage.
Now that you’re fully convinced that Van Halen is a heavy metal band, let’s get on with the list!